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Radical Emptiness

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I must admit that I was bracing myself this Monday morning at the prospect of Labour’s latest plans for tackling AGW, given all the talk about dairy farmers being forced to pay tens of thousands of dollars per year for our terrible Green House Gas (GHG) emission sins!

I was therefore immensely pleased to read this in Kiwiblog on Tuesday morning:

Stuff took the time to tally up these 284 listed actions and classify them.

Over half (158) are not really plans at all, but are plans to make a plan down the road, or to scope the scale of a possible policy, or develop an evidence base to build a policy on.

Excellent. NZ Labour strikes again. Plans and more plans amounting to nothing, although unfortunately a lot of money will be pissed up against various walls. It’s reached a sad stage in government when the best you can hope for is that the ideological fanatics you oppose turn out to be incompetent morons who couldn’t find their assholes with a mirror and a magnifying glass.

Still, let us be grateful for small mercies and the fact that for all the bloviating about the Climate Crisis, Labour have figured out that to really reduce emissions as far and as fast as they want would mean doing things that would be … harsh. This was explored from a US perspective in this article from 2019 where the writer lays out the reality of “getting serious” about reducing GHG emissions by imagining what a True Believer President (Democrat naturally) would have to do:

Inslee had launched his campaign two years earlier as a longshot, single-issue candidate. But events rapidly outpaced what had begun as a boutique candidacy intended to call attention to climate change.

As his first act as president, Inslee declared a national climate emergency. As his second, he announced national carbon rationing. Until further notice, consumers were limited to one tank of gas per month. Based on time of year and regional climates, natural gas and heating oil deliveries to households were cut by as much as 60%. Utilities were directed to submit plans within the month to cut total electricity generation by 40% and to optimize their existing generation mix to use as little fossil generation as possible.

In this imaginary scenario Inslee wins because Mother Nature delivers droughts, storms, tornadoes and hurricanes that perfectly fit his campaign. Congress follows Inslee (a real politician btw) and:

  • Nationalises the entire US electricity industry (the massive TVA and BPA are already public).
  • Creates a National Renewable Energy Corporation to produce enough wind turbines and solar panels to produce 60% of the nation’s electric power by 2030.
  • Creates the National Nuclear Energy Corporation, which takes over all private nuclear businesses build 200 single-design reactors in a decade to handle the other 40% of power needs.
  • Nationalises the Big Three US automakers to retool all their factories in three years to make EV’s.

While it’s imaginary the writer compares this to what is actually being proposed or being done to show how moderate even the calls of most US greens are.

As many environmentalists and even elected Democrats have come to believe that serious climate disruption is already upon us, it has become fashionable to call for a World War II-style mobilization to fight climate change. But virtually no one will actually call for any of the sorts of activities that the United States undertook during the war mobilization—rationing food and fuels, seizing property, nationalizing factories or industries, or suspending democratic liberties.

In other words even the zealots are full of it, and, although they probably are genuinely alarmed, don’t actually see climate change as the immediate and existential threat they publicly say it is. The article is lengthy and goes into some detail about the post-war history of the US Left in five sections:

  • The Libertarian Left.
  • From Public Goods to Market Failure.
  • Communitarian Capitalism.
  • Tilting with Windmills.
  • Our Divided Neoliberal House.

All of which has led them into a position where they can’t go for the imaginary ideas of a President Inslee. Thankfully, because it would likely be a catastrophe. If you think that’s OTT I suggest you look at what’s happening in Sri Lanka as a direct result of an ideological, scientifically ignorant decision by it’s (former) President to ban agrochemicals for farming. Which led to this:

Within six months of the ban, rice production in the country—a once very sufficient industry—dropped 20 percent, forcing Sri Lanka to import $450 million of rice to meet supply needs and surging rice prices rose nearly 50 percent.

Now, Sri Lanka will pay farmers across the country 40,000 million rupees ($200 million) to compensate for their barren harvests and crop failures. In addition to the funding, the Sri Lankan government will pay $149 million in price subsidies to rice farmers impacted by the loss.

Which then led to this:

Sri Lanka is on the brink of bankruptcy and has suspended payments on its foreign loans. Its economic miseries have brought on a political crisis, with the government facing a protests and a no-confidence motion in Parliament.

The reserves declined to $3.1 billion by the end of 2021, and to $1.9 billion by the end of March, he said. With foreign currency in short supply thanks to less tourism and other revenues, official reserves were tapped to pay for importing essentials including fuel, gas, coal and medicines beginning in August 2021.

Which has led to this, with only enough petrol to last one more day.

I note that the NZ Feckless covered this story a couple of days ago and in the story I read did not once mention the organic farming decision that led to all this. Stuff talks only of Chinese infrastructure projects and debts. Dishonest assholes.

Adam Smith once said, in reply to a student’s concerns about Britain being ruined by the loss of the American colonies, that “There is a great deal of ruin in a nation”. Sri Lanka is about to test the limits of that – and don’t for one moment think it couldn’t happen here if we had equally fanatical environmental decisions made along the lines of “President Inslee”.

Twisting the day away

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There are various people who investigate things, of whom it could be said that they’re a little crazy.

People like volcanologists, who dress up in flame-proof suits so that they can grab some fresh, hot lava for analysis. Sure, it’s necessary research, but I can’t help thinking that there’s an element of thrill-seeking here, at least with some of them. More than a few have paid with their lives for getting too close to the object of their desire.

Similarly with the so-called storm-chasers in the USA; largely amateurs who live for getting video and photos of tornados and other violent weather events. There’s not usually much science involved, although the mid-90’s movie Twister certainly pushed that aspect with a team trying to get a batch of science instruments into the heart of a tornado. One of my favourites from the Discovery Channel’s Storm Chasers series was the guy who had built an armoured car as protection for getting close to a twister.

A new addition has been drones, which I would think would be tough to use given that winds and weather are bad around tornados. However, this video of the tornado that just hit Andover, Kansas, shows what can be achieved. It’s certainly quite different to ground-based video. A full nine-minute version can be seen here.

Written by Tom Hunter

May 2, 2022 at 12:32 pm

Posted in Science, Technology, USA

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Some Hurricane

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Specifically it’s a hurricane on the planet Jupiter.

As space and science writer Robert Zimmerman notes:

I don’t have a scale, but I would guess that this storm is at least a thousand miles across. The depth is harder to measure, but we looking down into a deep whirlpool for sure.

Written by Tom Hunter

April 19, 2022 at 11:07 am

Posted in Science, Space

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Failed solutions, Moral Cruelty and Advertising

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“the perceived level of personal threat needs to be increased among those who are complacent, using hard-hitting emotional messaging. Without a vaccine, psychology is your main weapon.You have to restrict ways in which people mix and the virus can spread… You need to frighten people.”

Those words were part of the response from the SPI-B (Scientific Pandemic Insights) group that was advising the British government on dealing with the C-19 pandemic, and that response was a specific answer to the government’s question, “What are the options for increasing adherence to the social distancing measures?” 

As the Great Chinese Xi Snot pandemic finally grinds to an end after two years there are a lot of people digging back into the measures that were taken to combat it, and one of those people is  Laura Dodsworth, who has written a book about SPI-B and the larger science group they advised, SAGE (Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies). The book is A State of Fear, and her essay is The Moral Cruelty of the Pandemic Response, which examines the tensions between the individual and the collective that bubbled up during the pandemic. She has many examples of this played out in light of the government’s decision to follow the advice of SPI-B and terrify people, but none better than this:

As she points out about that Labour Party tweet:

The intention was to shame the Conservative party for ‘Partygate’, but instead it revealed how morally adrift and lacking in compassion people became. Jenny followed the rules, but maybe she shouldn’t have.

But that was merely the fear created in the individual vs. collective struggle over just one tactic, lockdowns, whereas the same thing happened for masks and ultimately the vaccines.

This and other solidarity-based messaging stemmed from the advice of behavioural scientists that appeals made to the collective conscience are more effective than appeals based on the threat to ourselves.

Science in general took the lead, and still does as countless people (many of whom dumped science at the age of 14 in high school because it was too tough) continue to scream “But The ScienceTM, when in fact decisions were made everyday that were not connected to the science. Here in NZ, the sudden reduction in weeks between the first and second shot was a classic example, done not because of a change in science but because the government found itself well behind on vaccinations when C-19 Delta hit in 2021.

Dodsworth points to Carl Jung’s famous book, The Undiscovered Self, and his take on science in our society:

“…one of the chief factors responsible for psychological mass-mindedness is scientific rationalism, which robs the individual of his foundations and his dignity. As a social unit he has lost his individuality and become a mere abstract number in the bureau of statistics.”

The whole essay is as much about philosophy as anything else (hence Jung) but, like him, she points to the weak spots of our modern society that will enable this to happen again:

Religion did not save us. Churches closed their doors at Easter, when Jesus Christ’s resurrection is remembered. Some of the faithful died without last rites…. Going further, the Archbishop of Canterbury told Christians it was immoral not to be vaccinated. “Vaccine Saves” was emblazoned on Christ the Redeemer in Rio de Janeiro. People sat spaced 2 metres apart in cathedrals awaiting vaccination, both medical miracle and ritual act of biomedical transubstantiation. Masks were more than totems in the latest culture war, they became the vestiture of the faithful, signalling belief and obedience. They emblemised a moral code based upon extending life, not securing your place in the afterlife.

I found the attitude of priests and pastors on that last point particularly evil given the overwhelming reason for the existence of their Christian faith, of which the last rites are supposed to be more than just a symbol. What must those dying people have thought awaited them, given their beliefs about the need for last rites? You can laugh at them as being insane to believe in such a thing, but would you be happy to torture an insane dying person precisely on the point of their belief?

Our societies not only did but got religious leaders to do it for them, enabling the rest of society to create the required social pariahs, when the Christian church was built upon the rock of appealing to social outcasts. This was perhaps the most obvious marker of how the secular world has triumphed over the religious in the West; the Church’s reason for existence was to save souls, not bodies.

I am not confident that her final call will be met either:

Lockdowns and restrictions squashed exactly what we need to flourish as human beings in order to counteract a psychic epidemic. As that crisis recedes, other dangers endure. Bad actors and paternalistic libertarians alike lack humility when they brazenly exploit our nature. We are buffeted by nudge, propaganda, and our passions. For the good of the collective, we must recapture meaning and values as individuals. 

Aside from re-thinking the morality involved it seems that some scientists who were in the middle of dealing with it have also begin to question their scientific analysis and conclusions, starting with Professor Mark Woolhouse, a member of SPI-M, the modelling group on SAGE, who has also written a book, The Year the World Went Mad. As he describes things in The Telegraph:

“We knew from February [2020], never mind March, that the lockdown would not solve the problem. It would simply delay it,” Woolhouse says, a note of enduring disbelief in his voice. And yet in government, “there was no attention paid to that rather obvious drawback of the strategy”.

Instead, lockdowns – which “only made sense in the context of eradication” – became the tool of choice to control Covid. The die was cast in China, which instituted ultra-strict measures and, unforgivably in Woolhouse’s book, was praised by the World Health Organisation for its “bold approach”. “The WHO,” he suggests, “got the biggest calls completely wrong in 2020. The early global response to the pandemic was woefully inadequate.”

Watching on, the rest of the world found itself following the same template, even though no work had been done to assess the costs of lockdowns. After swine flu, modellers had studied the knock-on consequences of many elements of infection control, but they had never envisaged “an instruction for most of the population to stay at home”.

But a big part of why they got it wrong was that they felt that organic fear of the disease was not enough. Back to Dodsworth:

The doom-mongering modelling which catalysed lockdowns does, by its nature, treat humans as social units. But by depriving us of individuality the modelling also deprives itself of accuracy. Professor Graham Medley who chairs the modelling group SPI-M reported to MPs that it is impossible to predict human behaviour and therefore the most pessimistic outcomes were offered to government….

According to Professor Woolhouse the doom analysis was only on one side of the lockdowns:

What he does know is that while extremely detailed modelling was being done “on what the epidemic itself might look like and the harms that novel coronavirus would cause… on the other side of the scales, we had pretty much nothing at all. There was never at any stage, even by the following year, any form of analysis of the harms caused by lockdowns. Were they even considered? I haven’t seen any evidence that they were and that is very, very troubling.”

But the article points out that the SAGE itself got a report in April 2020 that assessed how many years of quality life would be lost to lockdowns. The best guess was that suppressing the virus would cost three times more years than the disease itself. At the same time similar calculations were done here in NZ by Economics Professor John Gibson from Waikato. In addition the Swedish epidemiologists had already made clear that lockdowns were not an option for the same reasons. Even by late April there was analysis of the specific lockdowns used in France, Italy and Spain that showed they didn’t work.

Feeding into the doom models was, as Woolhouse says, a “fact” about the virus that was already known to be wrong:

Woolhouse, from his position on the inside as government policy was formed, saw something very different: the disease being described as a universal killer, when it was clear from the beginning some were very much more at risk than others.

“The first good data on this started to emerge in late February 2020,” he says. And as Britain endured the first Covid wave, this data was borne out in the facts. Those over 70 had at least 10,000 times the risk of dying as those under 15 years old. “This is a highly discriminatory virus,” Woolhouse says, still exasperated today. “It’s ageist, it’s sexist, it’s racist. And we certainly knew [that] before we went into lockdown.”

Yes. Known. So why did the government’s go for lockdown and the other harsh measures? Dodsworth’s analysis echos again:

Yet the Government decided that telling half the population that they were at extremely low risk would dilute adherence to the harsh rules it was imposing, and instead ramped up the threat warnings. “We are all at risk,” noted Michael Gove in March 2020. “The virus does not discriminate.” But it did then, and it does now.

Exactly. Science got trashed, even as we were being screamed at every day that politicians were following the science. I almost feel sorry for Woolhouse and I will read his book, but frankly I’m in no mood yet to forgive sinners, even deeply repentant ones.

Finally there’s this article looking at another aspect: the massive advertising campaign launched by the US government to promote the vaccines:

So, the federal government decided to market vaccine acceptance, but not by distributing information through the official pathway of public health departments.  Instead, the U.S. government hired the media to become their marketing agencies to sell vaccine acceptance to the US population.

According to Blaze Media’s Chris Pandolfo’s report on March 3rd, “The federal government paid hundreds of media companies to advertise the COVID-19 vaccines while those same outlets provided positive coverage of the vaccines.”

That advertising was spread across a huge range of media companies: ABC, CBS, and NBC, as well as cable TV news stations Fox News, CNN, and MSNBC, legacy media publications including the New York Post, the Los Angeles Times, and the Washington Post, digital media companies like BuzzFeed News and Newsmax, and hundreds of local newspapers and TV stations.

As the article bluntly states:

The entire media apparatus of the United States became the Voice of America to sell a positive, COVID-19 vaccine image to Americans. Congress appropriated $1 billion to buy the ads and obtain the placements of “influencer” personalities to appear in the media to sell the program.

Under this arrangement, the questioning of whether vaccines were effective or safe disappeared from the official narrative seen by Americans. Only the outlets that were not part of the marketing effort continued to cover the reservations of the academics; and these were then almost universally labeled as “fake news” by social media censors.

Most of these outfits never informed their viewers of this bought-and-paid-for work. For the average consumer of the MSM – for the average consumer of Fox News – it all would have seemed like normal news coverage or at worst “Public Service Announcements”.

Sadly?

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Talk about letting the cat out of the bag!

As one of the world’s richest men and one held to be one of the smartest, Bill Gates loves talking. He attends countless interviews. He’s hot on Global Warming and public healthcare, but to the dismay of his comrades in those areas he sometimes steps off the reservation – as when he said several years ago that renewable energy sources like wind and solar just weren’t going to be sufficient and nuclear power was the way to go.

Now he’s done the same thing with the C-19 vaccines.

That idea might actually spread faster than the virus, let alone the vaccines.

Written by Tom Hunter

February 20, 2022 at 8:32 am

Personal Protest coverage from Lindsay Mitchell

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Obviously there’s a lot of coverage of the Wellington Anti-mandate protests on Social Media site like Facebook/Twitter, but I should have been checking out Lindsay Mitchell’s blog as she’s had quite a few posts with personal observations and links to social media.

From the parliamentary occupation site this morning, a row of caricatures. I guess to the protestors the parties are indistinguishable. Their response is uniform. ‘We want you to go away.’ By my first-hand observation and conversations with protestors, be assured. They will not.

To be amongst the protestors is both calming and exhilarating. There’s a strong sense of trust in one another which has been long denied by lockdown separations, physical distancing and masking. People are working together to overcome adversities thrown at them by nature or the state. They know here, they can talk freely. For the first time in ages they actually feel safe in a physical community beyond the internet. 

But MPs – all of them – want you believe the protestors are ‘unsafe.’ That the city streets are being made unsafe by their presence. Now the protest site is ‘unhygienic’ and ‘contamination’ lurks. Faeces has been spotted (so have many well-cared for dogs attached to the protestors.)

Those who long ago lost trust in government can recognise alarmist media reporting and political propaganda when they see it.  

I’d choose to sit with these people any day over a parliamentary select committee.

Or Protest Day 8: Answer me this:

Where is the Maori Party when so many of the protestors are their whanau?

Where is the ACT Party when so many of the protestors are pleading for our legislated freedoms?

Where are the Greens, the very party of protest?

Where is Labour with a list ranking full of so-called activists?

Any ideas?

Oh I’ve got at least a couple of ideas about all this:

Crystallization, Madness and Tyranny

It is a fascinating moment when this sort of crystallization happens in a mass culture like America’s, because seemingly overnight even the definition of legitimate speech (or thought or action) also changes. Tocqueville observed that quite abruptly a person can no longer express opinions or raise questions that only days before were acceptable, even though no facts of the matter have changed. At an individual level, people who were within the bounds can be surprised to find themselves “tormented by the slights and persecutions of daily obloquy.” Once this occurs, he wrote, “your fellow-creatures will shun you like an impure being, and those who are most persuaded of your innocence will abandon you too, lest they should be shunned in their turn.”

Freedom and other anti-government slogans

Two crises, same response.

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It’s often said that a photo is worth a thousand words, but there are few photos that convey the same message about two different and vast crises afflicting humanity.

That’s Barack Obama, photographed talking with a bunch of construction workers about the work on his new multi-million dollar beachfront house in Hawaii. To be fair he’s probably fairly confident about the oceans not overflowing his mansion because of his ascension to the Whitehouse way back in 2008 – which is why he also owns another mansion at Martha’s Vineyard, about 1m above sea level in Massachusetts.

This was the moment when the rise of the oceans began to slow and our planet began to heal.

The other thing about that photo is that Obama does not have a mask on while all the lowly construction workers and others do. He’s not alone in that.

Obama knows that the oceans won’t rise in any significant way over the next decades or even centuries, just as he knows he’s not at serious risk of dying from COVID.

But it’s very important that the little people be frightened enough of these and other things so that they can be more easily controlled, for their own good of course.

A second answer to Why?

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Why? was the title of a post by Nick K, my co-blogger here at NM, as he grappled with the “reasoning” behind the vaccine and mask mandates here in NZ and similar approaches taken in most corners of the globe.

I came across one possible answer to that question covered in the post, One answer to Why?, which looked at the control of popular thinking via language control in the modern context of Tech companies in the Webosphere.

Here’s some background to those companies and their leaders in this article from City-Journal in 2017, The Disrupters, which is all about the new Lords of Silicon Valley:

In just ten years, Facebook built a global empire that surpassed General Electric in market value—and did it with just 4 percent of the Old Economy giant’s workforce: 12,000, compared with 300,000. Whatsapp, a recent Facebook acquisition, managed an even more impressive wealth-to-labor ratio, with a $19 billion value and just 55 employees. Combined, both companies reach roughly one-sixth of humanity. Facebook’s entertainment colleague just to the south, Netflix, crushed Blockbuster’s mammoth national network of 9,000 stores and 60,000 employees with its more nimble workforce of just 3,700 employees.

Capitalism in action. Many firms have been so destroyed in the past by new competitors. The article goes on to explore what might happen next with AI, robotics and so forth, providing examples along the way involving brilliant young people, like Michael Sayman. In doing so the writer interviewed a number of the leading lights of this IT revolution and even got an opinion poll done of them to assess where they thought it was all going.

That’s where it gets sad – and scary. For a start these founders (147 were polled) don’t like talking about inequality, probably because of this:

As far as the future of innovation and its impact on ordinary people, the most common answer I received in Silicon Valley was this: over the (very) long run, an increasingly greater share of economic wealth will be generated by a smaller slice of very talented or original people. Everyone else will increasingly subsist on some combination of part-time entrepreneurial “gig work” and government aid.

Now I’ve done pretty well out of capitalism, but to me that future sounds like it sucks ass, even with a theoretical Universal Beneficiary Income (UBI). Fully Automated Luxury Communism it is not. It’s actually Marx’s “disguised form of alms”. It’s quite clear that these “thought leaders” are very leary of what may happen when they’ve built robots that can do most things better than a human.

And what of the political and philosophical attitudes that go with all this? Well it’s not actually as obvious as you might think. First with the political:

Contrary to popular opinion, most of Silicon Valley is not a libertarian ATM. The tech industry is overwhelmingly Democratic. In 2008, 83 percent of donations from the top Internet firms went to Obama, not John McCain. Many of the Valley’s household names, including Google’s then-chairman Eric Schmidt, personally helped Obama in both presidential campaigns. Republicans rarely get much money or talent from the Valley.

Yet they’re against unions and regulations (of their industry) and big on free trade of course, which is why Bernie Sanders gets no love from these people, nor would any Democrat of the pre-1990’s. Nor Donald Trump. Bill Clinton sniffed the winds well.

Then there’s the philosophical ideas that drive their politics:

What I discovered through my survey was that Silicon Valley represents an entirely new political category: not quite liberal and not quite libertarian. They make a fascinating mix of collectivists and avid capitalists…But Silicon Valley philosophically diverges with libertarians and conservatives in a key way: they aren’t individualists. 

He gives a great example of the latter:

When the libertarian icon Rand Paul began his early run for president in 2015, in San Francisco, he expected to be greeted like a hero. During the rally that I attended, Paul got rousing applause for railing against mass government spying. But when Paul asked, “Who is a part of the leave-me-alone coalition?” expecting to hear cheers, the room went silent. “Not that many, huh?” he nervously asked.

He’s not the only one who is nervous on hearing that, and it leads straight into this:

In my survey, founders displayed a strong orientation toward collectivism. Fifty-nine percent believed in a health-care mandate, compared with just 21 percent of self-identified libertarians. They also believed that the government should coerce people into making wise personal decisions, such as whether to eat healthier foods. Sixty-two percent said that individual decisions had an impact on many other people, justifying government intervention.

That is, tech founders reject the core premise of individualism – that citizens can do whatever they want, so long as they don’t harm others.

And consider that several of these fantastically wealthy men control companies that very much can aid (or oppose) a government via their extraordinary reach into influencing the lives of hundreds of millions, probably billions, of people. This is the world of “Nudge Theory”, and it’s very applicable to the last two years of the C-19 pandemic – a period that has seen their fortunes skyrocket beyond what was even thought possible in 2017, in several cases almost doubling to $150 billion or $200 billion plus.

Hold that thought.

What has all this done to the US state that is home to almost all of this wealth and genius, California?Well, as this National Review article describes, it’s not good, The Crumbling California Model. Again it’s lengthy with a lot of links to prove its points, but basically it comes down to this:

Yet it’s time now to see what California’s “success” is all about. It reflects a new kind of economy — dominated by a few large companies, with an elite workforce, a large service class, and a population increasingly dependent on wealth redistribution. This emerging oligarchic regime, however progressive it likes to label itself, is more feudal than egalitarian, more hierarchical than competitive, financed largely by the same tech giants who help fund Newsom’s successful defeat of the recall.

Exactly what was described by that 2017 poll of those Californian tech leaders. That state was once a remarkably diverse, job-rich economy, with vibrant aerospace, oil, trade, manufacturing, business services, and agriculture sectors, as well as software and media. But aside from the IT industry those sectors have fallen away, taking with them the well-paid jobs for people who can’t program a computer. If living on wealth redistribution sounds great to you, consider this:

For most, the reality on the ground is increasingly challenging. The state is now the second-most unaffordable state for home-buyers, a particular challenge for Millennials, and it suffers the highest rate of “doubling up” — only our friend Hawaii does worse. California has the largest gap between middle and upper wage quartiles in the nation, and it has a level of inequality greater than that of Mexico and closer to that of Central American countries such as Guatemala and Honduras than to such “progressive” developed counties as Canada and Norway.

The paradox is that California Democrats, the voters as well as the politicians, adore those welfare states and wish to be more like them without recognising that there is more to “welfare” than government money.

Back to that article I linked to the other day, looking at the control of language and ideas in our modern world. It finishes with this:

During the last three decades and possibly more, Western governments working hand in glove with large corporate interests have spent enormous energy and resources on perception management techniques designed to effectively undermine citizens’ ability to oppose the policies that these same elites, in their incandescent wisdom, have decided are best for the people. 

The attacks of September 11th gave these corporate and government leaders both the additional funds and the political latitude they needed to greatly accelerate work on these culture-planning processes. The Covid crisis has put the whole game on steroids. 

We have many ways of ignoring these frightening developments, most common and intellectually lazy of these being to dismiss them without examination under the rubric of “conspiracy theories.”

One answer to Why?

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When an individual enters the regressed mental space [of “learned helpness], the stature of all those presented to him as authority figures—no matter their actual level of competence or coherence—rises dramatically. 

Why? was the title of a post by Nick K, my co-blogger here at NM, as he grappled with the “reasoning” behind the vaccine and mask mandates here in NZ and similar approaches taken in most corners of the globe.

I have two possible answers to that question, they’re rather disturbing, they’re connected, and I’ll deal with the second in a follow-up post.

This article from The Brownstone Institute in the USA is a bit of an intellectual wank:

When we write as humanists, we select from the inventory of verbal metaphors we have acquired in the course of our lives to tell a story that we believe will enlighten and will capture the attention of our readers. In providing them with this carefully arranged series of “charged” anecdotes we trust that we are, in some way, facilitating ….

Blah, blah, blah. Yuck.

But it does contain two nuggets as it compares the culture, the use and control of language and thinking surrounding the 9/11 attacks and the C-19 pandemic:

Once this “mini-course” in fear-tinged mental disjunction was offered to the public and accepted by it with little visible pushback in the first weeks and months of the crisis, Fauci, Birx and Redfield, along with their chosen spokespeople at the CDC and in the media, were in effect, “off to the races.”

With the basic template we rely on to make reasoned risk assessments about our lives effectively shattered, millions lapsed into the mental state that has always been the programmatic end goal of those, like Bruce Jessen and James Mitchell, who design torture programs for the US government: “Learned helplessness.” 

When an individual enters this regressed mental space, the stature of all those presented to him as authority figures—no matter their actual level of competence or coherence—rises dramatically. 

Indeed, considerable research suggests that a lack of coherence or predictability in such authority figures only enhances the now psychically helpless person or group of persons’ estimation of the “authority figure’s” irreplaceability and excellence. This suggests that there may have been more than a little “method” in the apparent “madness” of Fauci’s notorious flip-flops on key policy issues. 

For a certain part of the population, perhaps bereft of rituals and practices designed to help them transcend the crude, cruel and ambiguity-generating rhythms of our now largely transactional culture, the surrendering the self to authority can take on an almost religious allure. 

They give an example of a conversation that is…

“… quite representative of dozens I have had in real life during the last 22 months, maintained often with “well-educated” people who, in no small percentage, can rightfully place MAs and PhDs after their names on resumes”.

Person A: I am really scared about Covid. 
Person B: Do you know what the chances of dying for someone your age who happens to catch Covid? 
Person A: No.
Person B: Well, according to the latest CDC statistics your chances of survival if you get it are 99.987%. 
Person A: But I know of the cousin of a friend who was my age and healthy and who died. I also read a news report about a healthy young person dying in New York the other day. 
Person B: Yes, the reports you speak of may be true. But they point to very particular instances that might not be representative of general trends, and thus are not really helpful in helping you determine your actual risk. The only useful way to do that is by looking at broadly-constituted statistics. 
Person A: I knew it. I just knew it. You really are one of those conspiracy-loving Covid deniers who is happy to just let lots of people die. 

That’s also quite representative of conversations I’ve had over the last two years, including with commentators on this blog.

Written by Tom Hunter

January 15, 2022 at 4:00 pm

The suicide of expertise

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This was the title of an article written by Law Professor Glenn Reynolds for USA Today back in 2017. But what it has to say seems even more powerful as the years have passed.

According to Foreign Affairs magazine, Americans reject the advice of experts so as “to insulate their fragile egos from ever being told they’re wrong.” That’s in support of a book by Tom Nichols called The Death of Expertise, which essentially advances that thesis.

Well, it’s certainly true that the “experts” don’t have the kind of authority that they possessed in the decade or two following World War II. Back then, the experts had given us vaccines, antibiotics, jet airplanes, nuclear power and space flight. The idea that they might really know best seemed pretty plausible.

But as Reynolds points out, the last fifty years contains a rather large number of big mistakes by experts:

  • The Vietnam war and “The Best and The Brightest”.
  • The War on Poverty (still being lost the last I heard).
  • Government nutritional advice from the 1960s on.
  • Failing to foresee the fall of the USSR.
  • Failing to foresee the rise in Islamic extremism.
  • Iraq and other “democracy building” projects gone awry. (2022 added Afghanistan to that ilist)
  • The Housing and Subprime mortgage bubbles of the 2000’s, leading to the Global Financial Crisis of 2008; a failure in both forecasting and handling.

There are a whole lot more smaller ones scattered in there as well, including Brexit and the botched launch of Obamacare. Reynolds quotes Nassim Taleb, a mathematical statistician (best known for his book The Black Swan):

“With psychology papers replicating less than 40%, dietary advice reversing after 30 years of fatphobia, macroeconomic analysis working worse than astrology, the appointment of Bernanke who was less than clueless of the risks, and pharmaceutical trials replicating at best only 1/3 of the time, people are perfectly entitled to rely on their own ancestral instinct and listen to their grandmothers.”

Reynolds also points out that this class of “experts” has done pretty well for itself in this same time period, even as many of the ordinary people they tell what to do, have not. Reynolds has a suggestion on that:

If experts want to reclaim a position of authority, they need to make a few changes. First, they should make sure they know what they’re talking about, and they shouldn’t talk about things where their knowledge isn’t solid. Second, they should be appropriately modest in their claims of authority. And, third, they should check their egos.

In the last two years of the C-19 pandemic I’ve seen no sign of any of this from the “experts”, where ego has been combined with an MSM that loves “experts” (as long as they agree with the Narrative and/or “Settled Science”).

On that last I appreciated these end-of-year musings about it all in Science and Chainsaws. There’s some throat clearing at first:

I’m no virologist or geneticist, but experts I respect persuaded me of the vaccines’ safety and efficacy. I got jabbed as soon as possible and regret that others chose not to. I wear masks in some situations, and not others. I see people socially but avoid large crowds. I favored lockdowns and school closings in early 2020 but think they lingered too long.

As grateful as he is to these scientists however, he sounds some warning notes:

The history of medicine offers ample reasons to avoid smug certitude which, unfortunately, is abundant on social and traditional media. Science is always about likelihood and never about certainty, though word apparently hasn’t reached Twitter and TV news. Then there is the flagrantly political demeanor of so many COVID experts.

He makes particular mention of the way that ex-New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo was lionised, and the feedback of the man to that praise with comments like, “Look at the data. Follow the science. Listen to the experts. … Be smart.”

How many times have we heard that from others? But as the writer says:

Here’s why they shouldn’t. Science, like a chainsaw, is an exceedingly powerful and useful tool. But “follow the science” makes no more sense than “follow the chainsaw.” The chainsaw doesn’t know the safest way to cut a tree, and science—let alone some anthropomorphic vision of it—can’t weigh the tradeoffs between slowing COVID and shutting down schools and cancer surgeries.

He finishes by quoting from a woman Ann Bauer, who has an autistic son and in the 1990’s was hammered as the cause of autisim; a “refrigerator mother” according to the theories of Psychologist Bruno Bettelheim, who is now regarded as a charlatan but for a time was held as the holder of a gospel truth:

In October, novelist and essayist Ann Bauer wrote a poignant column, “I Have Been Through This Before,” on her discomfort with the parade of cocksure COVID experts issuing ever-changing diktats and pronouncements. When vaccines didn’t end the pandemic, she wrote, “doctors and officials blamed their audience of 3 billion for the disease. The more the cures failed, the greater the fault of the public.”

Science is ultimately about learning. I see little evidence of that at present.

Written by Tom Hunter

January 11, 2022 at 9:56 am